SPTC, MTN spat may cost Swazi’s their jobs

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About 250 workers might lose their jobs at Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) following a ruling by the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in favour of MTN Swaziland.

On August 4, the ICA ruled that SPTC should discontinue its next generation network, which offered mobile services including ONE and Fixedfone, after MTN complained that these products were in violation of a joint venture agreement that the two companies entered into in 1997.

Already SPTC is switching off its cellphone services, an exercise that management said would last up to Friday. SPTC is also expected to compensate MTN with an amount yet to be decided by the ICA for the loss of business due to the sale of mobile services.

To try and save their jobs, the workers picketed the SPTC headquarters earlier last week calling on the government to solve the impasse between SPTC and MTN.

According to Menzi Hlophe, SPTC’s staff association chairman, about a quarter of the corporation’s 1 000 employees stand to lose their jobs.

“These were people who were hired… to work on ONE and Fixedfone services,” Hlophe said. “Otherwise, all employees will be affected because this means shrinking… revenue.”

The agreement prevents SPTC, a parastatal with a 41 percent shareholding at MTN Swaziland, from competing with the South African-based company while the parastatal is a major shareholder at MTN.

King Mswati III holds a 10 percent stake at MTN Swaziland, while Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini is a shareholder at Swaziland Empowerment, which is owned by a group of Swazis with a 19 percent shareholding in MTN.

“The fact that some individuals have shares at MTN has ensured that the government gives MTN preferential treatment, although SPTC is a majority shareholder,” Hlophe said.

The public favoured the SPTC services because they were a cheaper alternative, Hezekiel Mabuza, the deputy president of the Federation of the Swaziland Business Community, said.

“The World Bank observed that the cost of doing business in Swaziland is too high, attributing this partly to the communication tariffs,” he said.

Even the International Monetary Fund, which ended its staff-monitored programme in Swaziland earlier this year, has complained about the high mobile telephony costs.

In less than a year of operation, the next generation network accounted for 17 percent of the total SPTC connections.

SPTC acting managing director Amon Dlamini said the issues that the workers were complaining about were before the board, and declined to comment further.


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